UK Internal Market: White Paper

– in the House of Commons at 12:08 pm on 16th July 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy 12:08 pm, 16th July 2020

For centuries, the United Kingdom’s internal market has been the bedrock of our shared prosperity, with people, products, ideas and investment moving seamlessly between our nations, safeguarding livelihoods and businesses and demonstrating that, as a union, our country is greater than the sum of its parts.

Today, I am publishing a White Paper on the Government’s plans to preserve the UK internal market after the transition period. Since the Acts of Union, the UK internal market has been the source of unhindered and open trade across the country, one which pulls us together as a united country. I know that Edward Miliband cares as much about our precious union as I do.

Since 1973, EU law has acted as the cohering force for the UK internal market. In 2016, the British people voted to repeal this legislation, allowing us now to articulate the continued functioning of the internal market. The Union’s economic strength is unrivalled. Since the Acts of Union, the size of our economy has multiplied over 170-fold. Successive UK Governments have legislated to share this prosperity and protect workers’ rights—for example, through the introduction of the national minimum wage and now the national living wage, and by providing for more generous holiday and maternity leave than required by the EU. Today we are announcing plans to continue this hugely successful economic Union. We will legislate for an internal market in UK law, as we leave the transition period and the EU’s single market. Our approach will give businesses the regulatory clarity and certainty they want. It will ensure that the cost of doing business in the UK stays as low as possible.

But let me be clear: preserving the coherence of the UK internal market will be done in a manner that respects and upholds the devolution settlements. On 1 January 2021, hundreds of powers previously held by the EU will rightly flow directly back to devolved Administrations in the United Kingdom. For the first time, because of our approach, the devolved Administrations will be able to legislate on a whole range of policy areas. Each nation that makes up our United Kingdom will hold an unprecedented level of powers after the transition period.

To respect devolution and uphold our internal market, we propose to legislate this year. Businesses across the UK will be given a market access commitment. That will be underpinned by the principles of mutual recognition and non-discrimination, which will guarantee that goods and services from one part of the United Kingdom can always be sold into another. The simple principle at the heart of this approach is a continuation of our centuries-old position that there should be no economic barriers to trading within the United Kingdom.

The economies of our four nations, within one United Kingdom, are strongly integrated. At the time of the last census, 170,000 workers commuted daily from one part of the UK to another. Scotland makes over £50 billion of sales per year to the rest of the UK, accounting for over 60% of all exports. Indeed, Scotland sells three times as much to the rest of the UK than to the whole EU put together. About 50% of Northern Ireland’s sales are to Great Britain, and 75% of exports of Welsh final goods and services are consumed in other parts of the UK. In some parts of Wales, over a quarter of workers commute across the border. It is in the clear economic interest of the whole United Kingdom that its internal market continues to function successfully and seamlessly, as it has done for centuries.

As part of our proposals, we will also clarify in law the position that subsidy control is a reserved matter for the whole United Kingdom. This has never been a devolved matter. The Government have been clear that, after the end of the transition period, the UK will have its own domestic subsidy control regime. We will develop our policy proposals on this in due course, consulting widely.

We will only recover from covid by working together. Just over two weeks ago, the Prime Minister set out how we would strengthen the incredible partnership between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland through our economic recovery. That will be underpinned by a strong UK internal market and avoid the damaging uncertainty for businesses of a fractured economy. It will provide the unquestionable advantages of continued open trade. It will benefit businesses, workers and consumers across the country through lowering trading costs and allowing different regions to specialise in sectors where they enjoy a comparative advantage.

Our proposals are designed for co-operation between all four nations. We invite all devolved Administrations to work together and to agree common approaches to cross-cutting issues such as regulatory standards.

The UK economy has some of the highest standards in the world. We go beyond EU rules in many areas, including health and safety in the workplace, workers’ rights, food, health and animal welfare, consumer protections, household goods, net zero and the environment. We will maintain our commitment to high standards, as we negotiate trade agreements that will provide jobs and growth to the United Kingdom. Through our common frameworks approach, we will support regulatory consistency across our internal market, so if the devolved Administrations seek to agree standards across the UK economy, I say simply this: come and work with us.

The UK internal market is a historic achievement for the United Kingdom, which for 300 years has supported unrivalled economic growth and innovation within our great Union. That has underpinned the best of our United Kingdom’s innovation and prosperity: the Scottish enlightenment, the steam engine, the world’s first vaccine, the telephone, the electric tramway, penicillin, radar, pneumatic tyres, the breaking of the Enigma code, the sequencing of DNA, and the world wide web. As we rebuild and recover from covid, we will work together as one United Kingdom to support jobs and livelihoods across our whole country. We will maintain high standards for consumers, and deliver our commitment to devolution by giving more power to the devolved legislatures. I commend this statement to the House.

Photo of Ed Miliband Ed Miliband Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy 12:16 pm, 16th July 2020

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. We support the principle of maintaining the UK’s internal market, which is vital for trade, jobs, and prosperity across the whole United Kingdom. The way the Government go about that has profound implications for whether we drive up standards across the UK, or drive them down, and for whether that issue becomes a source of tension across the four nations of the UK. We believe in our United Kingdom, and there is a big responsibility on the Government to seek to build consensus, and ensure that we do not drive a wedge between our nations or give an excuse to those who wish to do so.

By those standards, there are significant problems in the announcement. On the process, for example, the Welsh Government were promised a draft of this White Paper last March, yet when I talked to the Welsh First Minister yesterday afternoon, the Government had still not shared it with him. That approach does the Secretary of State and the Government no good. On the substance, we should be honest that there is a real challenge regarding how we maintain an internal market without barriers in the UK as we leave the European Union, while at the same time respecting devolution when issues such as food standards and labelling, animal welfare, and other important environmental issues are devolved.

For the past 40 years, including 20 years of devolution, that has been achieved by the EU setting minimum standards, which all four nations had to abide by. The crucial question is not whether we have an internal market, which we need, but how we now set minimum standards to ensure that each nation has a proper voice in doing so, and a means of resolving any disputes that arise. By answering those questions, we can do what we need to do, which is both keep the internal market and respect devolution. Unfortunately, despite the warm words from the Secretary of State, the approach of the White Paper as presented for England, Scotland and Wales appears to be simply to legislate that the lowest standard chosen by one Parliament must become the minimum standard for all.

The risk is that one legislature would be able to lower its food safety standards and animal welfare standards, and force the other nations, which would have no recourse, to accept goods and services produced on that basis— in other words, a race to the bottom. The Secretary of State talks about levelling up, but there is a real risk of levelling down. That is not in the interests of consumers, workers or businesses, and it does not adequately respect devolution. For Northern Ireland, if standards in the UK diverge significantly below those of the EU, there is a real risk that checks on food and other products going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland would increase in parallel.

The Secretary of State must, in the course of this consultation, provide better answers for how we avoid that race to the bottom, so let me ask him four specific questions. First, will he explain what is the mechanism, if any, by which the four nations of the UK will agree minimum standards that respect the voice of each nation? He mentions the common frameworks process and an ongoing process of dialogue, but he must realise that that is superseded by the White Paper, which simply states that the lowest standard among the nations wins. If the framework process is to prevent that danger, how will it be incorporated into legislation?

Secondly, there needs to be a means of resolving disputes that can command confidence. The White Paper states:

“The Government will consider tasking an independent, advisory body to report to the UK Parliament”.

That is far too weak. Surely the Secretary of State must recognise that any independent body, if it is to respect devolution, must be accountable to all four nations, with its functions agreed by all four nations.

Thirdly, the Secretary of State must understand that the anxiety caused by the White Paper is partly due to the gap between the Government’s warm words about raising standards—we heard them again today—and their deeds. They had a chance in the Agriculture Bill to agree that no trade deal would be signed that lowered animal welfare, environmental protection or food safety standards, through an amendment tabled by their own side, but they refused to do so. The spectre of a Trump trade deal that would drive down standards and be imposed on the whole of the UK hangs over this White Paper. For years they have denied that their real agenda is a bonfire of much-needed standards. Great, but if they do not plan to lower standards, why cannot the Secretary of State agree to legally binding commitments?

Fourthly, the state aid rules need to be in place in just five months’ time, but even after this White Paper we still do not know any details about how they will work. Will the Secretary of State tell us when we will get the Government’s plans?

I want to end by saying to the right hon. Gentleman that we absolutely need to maintain the internal market from 1 January, but it is time the Government showed—in deeds, not just in words—their commitment to levelling up, not levelling down. It is time, too, that they showed a desire to build constitutional consensus, rather than risking constitutional conflict, and the White Paper is not a good start. The Secretary of State and the Government must do better in the weeks and months ahead.

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments and for his support for the principle of the UK internal market. I hope that that is something we will hear echoed across the House as we open up to questions. Let me address some of the points that he has raised. The first thing worth noting is that he talked about anxiety. The real issue at the moment is giving certainty to businesses, so that they know from day one that they are able to operate as they do now within a coherent, seamless internal market. That is what this White Paper proposal absolutely gives them. I have spoken, as I am sure he will have done, to business representatives and organisations over the last 24 hours, and they have told me that this is one big issue off the risk register of companies.

The right hon. Gentleman talked about standards. I would point out to him once again that the UK has some of the highest standards in the world across a whole range of areas. I have listed issues around maternity and paternity pay, around the exclusions and around zero-hour contracts. I say to him once again—I am sure that this issue will be raised by others as well—that we are not going to be compromising our high environmental standards, our high animal welfare standards or, indeed, our high food safety standards in the deals that we do.

The right hon. Gentleman then raised the issue about working together. He will know that the common frameworks programme has been running for some time, and we have had consultations and discussions around that. If colleagues in the devolved Administrations want to have a discussion about standards, that is absolutely the right forum in which to do it. He also mentioned the state aid rules. I know that he will understand the reason that we want to continue to have this as a reserved matter. We want to ensure that there is effectively equality across the whole of the UK and that there are no distortions. I understand his desire for us to set out the details on this, and that will come.

In conclusion, the White Paper gives certainty to businesses. It is about protecting jobs and livelihoods, and about supporting businesses in making their investment decisions. That is good for consumers as well. It is about underpinning our recovery from covid as we seek to work together. I say to all colleagues that this is about businesses and people, not about politicians, and I hope that that is the spirit in which we will conduct the rest of this debate.

Photo of Cherilyn Mackrory Cherilyn Mackrory Conservative, Truro and Falmouth

Nothing is currently more important for our whole United Kingdom than the protection of public health and the support of our economic recovery. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the proposals in the White Paper will ensure that all four nations—indeed, all four corners—of our United Kingdom can overcome this crisis by working together and promoting good co-operation between Westminster and the devolved Administrations?

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: that is precisely what I want to do. This is a consultation; we are consulting and we want to get people’s views. My door is very much open to having a dialogue and discussion with anyone who wants to come forward.

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford SNP Westminster Leader

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement.

What we have seen put forward by the Tory Government is the biggest assault on devolution since the Scottish Parliament reconvened in 1999. It is clear that the Government either do not get Scotland or cannot even be bothered to get it, so let me remind those on the Government Benches that in 1997 more than 75% of Scots voted to establish the Scottish Parliament. The Tories at the time were hostile to the establishment of that Scottish Parliament; they were out of step with Scotland. Plus ça change. Today, the Tories want to strip our Scottish Parliament of its powers.

Let us myth-bust some of the lies that have been circulated this morning. Scotland is not getting 70 new powers. The UK Government say that new powers are coming on animal welfare, energy efficiency and land use; has the Secretary of State not heard? The Scottish Parliament already has those powers: just last month the Scottish Parliament passed a Bill on animal welfare; last year, the Scottish Parliament passed a Bill on forestry; and energy efficiency was part of the Climate Change (Scotland Bill) in 2009, more than a decade ago. We have these powers.

The Secretary of State’s proposal will impose what is being called a mutual recognition regime. The only recognition here is that it is a plan for a race to the bottom on standards. It will mean a reduction in standards in one part of the UK driving down standards elsewhere, even if that is in direct contradiction of the devolved Administrations and their rights and powers.

We all know how desperate this Tory Government are to sell out food standards in return for a US trade deal. There we have it: no new powers and a plan to destroy Scotland’s world-class food and drink standards—not a Parliament in Edinburgh of equals, but one where we legislate only with the approval of Westminster. I have to say to the Secretary of State: this is not a good look. Will he guarantee to the House that these plans will not be imposed on Scotland and that he and his Government will respect, as the Prime Minister often says, the Scottish Parliament’s decisions on them as an equal?

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

The right hon. Gentleman talks about understanding Scotland; the one thing that is clear from the statements he has just made is that he certainly does not understand business in Scotland and he certainly does not understand the people of Scotland on this issue. The UK internal market—[Interruption.] The UK internal market is about—[Interruption.]

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. Mr Blackford, I can hear what you are shouting. Please, desist.

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

The UK internal market is about preserving jobs across the United Kingdom. It is about making sure that investment can come in, confident in the knowledge that we have a level playing field—an internal market in which businesses can sell services and products across the United Kingdom.

The right hon. Gentleman talks about the powers that will be coming back at the end of this year—at the end of the transition period. It will be the biggest transfer of powers in the history of devolution. I do, though, agree with him that it is not going to be 70 powers coming back to Scotland; I think it is closer to 111. His colleagues in the Scottish Parliament will have an opportunity to set rules and regulations. The problem, of course, is that SNP Members are not interested in that—they are not interested in taking control; they are interested in being ruled by the European Union. The right hon. Gentleman should spend more time talking to businesses and to people whose jobs would be at risk if we did not have this seamless internal market in the United Kingdom.

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman talks about standards. I have already explained to Edward Miliband that we have some of the highest standards in the world, and we are not going to compromise on that. Ian Blackford talks about wanting to have a dialogue. I respectfully remind him that it was the Scottish Government who walked away from the discussion that we were having on the UK internal market last year, so, in the spirit of co-operation, I hold out my hand to him and say, “Let us talk. Let us continue the discussion. Come back to us on the consultation and continue to work with us on the common frameworks programme.”

Photo of Sara Britcliffe Sara Britcliffe Conservative, Hyndburn

Will my right hon. Friend assure me that Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland will also see more powers coming back to them as a result of these proposals when the transition period ends?

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Yes, indeed. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: powers will flow back to all the devolved Administrations—around 70 to Wales and around 150 to Northern Ireland.

Photo of Sarah Olney Sarah Olney Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

This talk of powers being returned disguises the fact that the Government are denying us all here a much more important power—that of scrutinising the trade deals that are struck in our name. The British people used to have this power through their elected representatives in Brussels, but the Trade Bill comes back to the House on Monday and there is no provision in it for this Parliament to have scrutiny of the trade deals that are being struck in our name. Will the Secretary of State accept that trade flows throughout the United Kingdom can best be secured by instituting a robust and respected dispute resolution process, and will he confirm that implementing such a mechanism will be a priority as he progresses his plans?

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I say respectfully to the hon. Lady that she needs to move on. The British people decided that we were leaving the European Union in 2016 and we are implementing that vote.

Photo of Matt Vickers Matt Vickers Conservative, Stockton South

Scotland sells more to the rest of the UK than it does to the entire rest of the world put together. Does my right hon. Friend agree that preserving the UK’s internal market is vital to protecting jobs, businesses and livelihoods in all four nations of the UK?

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I could not agree more. Modelling shows that Scotland would suffer a GDP loss of four times higher than the UK as a whole from unmitigated differences in regulations.

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury)

When the UK Government seek to strike trade deals with the rest of the world, they need to be able to speak with one voice for the whole United Kingdom, so will the Secretary of State commit in the Bill that he brings forward to making sure that arrangements are in place for proper consultation with all the devolved Administrations and proper scrutiny by this Parliament and the elected representatives of the British people?

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I have just said that the White Paper is indeed a consultation and he, along with everyone else in our country, is able to set out his views.

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous The Second Church Estates Commissioner

On 17 March, the Chancellor said that companies such as Square One in Leighton Buzzard in the events industry

“that have business properties will be eligible”—[Official Report, 17 March 2020;
Vol. 673, c. 964.]— for business rates relief. Local authorities do not seem to have got that message, so will the Business Secretary stick up for the events industry and make sure that what the Chancellor said should happen will happen?

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I know that this is a very difficult time for very many businesses up and down the country, and that is why we have supported them with a whole range of measures, including grants and loans that they have been able to get. He will also know that I set out a £617 million discretionary grant fund for local authorities. I hope that local authorities will have used that discretion to support local businesses, but I am happy to take up that individual case if he would like.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee of Privileges, Chair, Committee of Privileges

The thing is that there are lots of people who have been excluded from all those. There are about 3 million people who have recently become self-employed or are company directors of small limited companies—people who have not received a single penny from the Government—and their business has really suffered. I just hope that the Government still have something more to say about those people because they are in real financial trouble and they need support now. My local authority still needs £2.5 million to make sure that Tylorstown tip does not fall further into the river, and that is the responsibility of the Westminster Government. Will he please guarantee that that money happens now?

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I completely understand that, as my hon. Friend Andrew Selous and the hon. Gentleman have said, some businesses and individuals are facing real difficulties at this point. We have provided £160 billion-worth of support in the past few months and the Chancellor announced another £30 billion. I say to the hon. Gentleman that through the self-employed scheme we have supported about 2.6 million individuals, and of course businesses are able to get bounce-back loans, more than 1 million of which have been approved. Again, if he has individual cases to raise, I am happy to look at them.

Photo of Mark Menzies Mark Menzies Conservative, Fylde

I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement on the internal market, but may I press him to ensure that the interests of small food producers, particularly those in Lancashire, are given equal weighting to all these additional powers that have been given to the Scottish Parliament, because we do not want any part of the United Kingdom to be left behind?

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

My hon. Friend is right to say that we do not want any part of the UK, or indeed any business across the UK, to be left behind, which is precisely why we have set out our proposals on mutual recognition and non-discrimination.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice Team Member)

Words such as “mutual recognition regime” sound benign, yet some 1 million people have signed a National Farmers Union petition and organisations such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Compassion in World Farming have expressed their fears, so why should my constituents believe the Minister’s promises of munificence? To paraphrase the old adage, should we beware this time not of Greeks but of the British bearing gifts, less than a Trojan horse but this time for Trump’s America?

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I am not sure how I respond to all that, except to say that the proposal we are putting forward is about protecting businesses and jobs across the whole UK.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Conservative, Wealden

I welcome the Minister’s statement. Does he agree that these proposals will maintain current economic freedoms, which are vital to ensure that all of our nations survive and thrive post covid? This is good news for business and for job security, and, fundamentally, it enables us to level up across our great United Kingdom.

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Absolutely. As ever, my hon. Friend speaks a great deal of sense. This is about levelling up and making sure there is an equal opportunity for businesses across our country to be able to sell and trade.

Photo of Zarah Sultana Zarah Sultana Labour, Coventry South

The Secretary of State talked about the economic recovery after coronavirus, about which my constituents and I have immediate concerns. In the past week alone, more than 8,000 jobs have been lost in the west midlands, manufacturing and higher education sectors have been particularly hit, and in Coventry we fear an unemployment tsunami when the furlough scheme ends. Will the Government extend the furlough scheme on a sectoral basis, invest in green manufacturing in the west midlands, and provide a plan for higher education that protects jobs and funding?

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

The Chancellor set out the position on the furlough scheme clearly. As the hon. Lady knows, he announced the job retention bonus. On green jobs, she will also know that in his summer statement he announced an extra £3 billion for energy efficiency in homes and in public buildings, and that will support about 140,000 green jobs.

Photo of Chris Loder Chris Loder Conservative, West Dorset

This White Paper, in ensuring the seamless internal market within the UK that this Government are delivering, is an excellent thing, particularly given that we are delivering the democratic will of the people in leaving the EU. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is particularly good for small and microbusinesses in vast rural constituencies such as mine, where 97% of businesses are small or micro-sized?

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Yes, indeed, because if there were regulatory barriers, for instance, if there were even small differences on things such as food labelling requirements, costs would of course be raised for small businesses, which they ultimately may pass on to consumers. Therefore what we are proposing is good not only for businesses of all sizes, but for consumers.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Labour, Warley

These structural arrangements are enormously important, but they only go so far because so are political culture and drive to ensure that we get Britain back to work. Yet Government purchasing rules and practice still grovel to so-called EU rules—unlike, incidentally, most other EU countries. Now the Government are free of those rules, when are they going to actively back British business and British workers in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland? There are no more EU excuses. Act now!

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

The right hon. Gentleman, for whom I have enormous respect, as ever makes his case very forcefully. He talks about public procurement, and I look forward to his thoughts as part of the consultation.

Photo of Fay Jones Fay Jones Conservative, Brecon and Radnorshire

I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. The internal market could not be more important to my constituents. Their businesses and jobs and, crucially, our economic recovery from covid depend on seamless trade throughout the UK, particularly because of the border we share with England. Will my right hon. Friend ignore any hysteria from the Labour party in Wales and press full steam ahead with the Bill, because my constituents will welcome it?

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She will also know that almost three times as many intermediate inputs used by businesses in Wales come from the rest of the UK than from the rest of the world put together. That is why it is important that we continue with a seamless internal market, which is good news for her constituents. I would just say to her that I am not prone to hysteria.

Photo of Alyn Smith Alyn Smith Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The European Parliament, the Court of Justice and the European Commission have 60 years of jurisprudence for how to deal with these issues. The reality is that under the proposals every single power, budget and competence, not just of the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments and the Northern Ireland Assembly but of local government in each of those countries, will be subject to a politically appointed panel that has no jurisprudence whatever. What will be the rights of the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly to input people on to that panel, and what dispute resolution mechanisms will they use? If this is not a fair and impartial arbiter, it is a power grab over every single competence that we have.

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Perhaps I can clarify once more, in case it has not been clear enough, that there is no power grab; this is a power surge. We are ensuring that all devolved policy areas stay devolved, and additional powers are returning to the devolved Administrations.

Photo of Craig Williams Craig Williams Conservative, Montgomeryshire

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement and welcome the White Paper. Like thousands of my constituents, my dad and brother work in the building sector and travel to their jobs in England every day. I implore my right hon. Friend to ignore the attempts by the Welsh Labour Government to hold our Union and constitution to hostage over political points, and to crack on with building the single market that is essential to my Welsh constituency.

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

My hon. Friend speaks a great deal of sense. As I said at the start of the statement, I want to work co-operatively with colleagues across the devolved Administrations. That is precisely what we have been seeking to do over the past period, and we will continue to do that. I look forward to their representations as part of the consultation.

Photo of Alex Davies-Jones Alex Davies-Jones Labour, Pontypridd

It has been eight weeks since the Prime Minister of this country has bothered to contact the First Minister of Wales—eight weeks during a global pandemic that for many has felt like a lifetime. It has been a lifetime for the hundreds of workers at General Electric in Nantgarw in my constituency, who have just been served redundancy notices due to the lack of support from this UK Tory Government. The 2019 Conservative and Unionist party manifesto stated that the Conservatives were committed to strengthening the Union between all four nations of the UK, but we have actually seen this UK Tory Government completely ride roughshod through devolution. The White Paper is yet another assault on Welsh powers. Could the Secretary of State tell the House precisely when the White Paper was presented to the Welsh First Minister?

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

May I just say to the hon. Lady that I want to work collaboratively with all colleagues across all the devolved Administrations? She talks about the First Minister of Wales, and I can tell her that the Secretary of State for Wales has tried on two occasions recently to get a meeting. I think that one was due to take place in the last 24 hours, which unfortunately did not. There may be perfectly good reasons why that did not happen, but my commitment is to speak to my counterparts in Wales, for us from a UK Government perspective to speak to our counterparts and there is a consultation. The hon. Lady should look at the document and then respond.

Photo of Ben Everitt Ben Everitt Conservative, Milton Keynes North

For centuries, the internal market has ensured that the British people have the right to sell their wares and move freely between any nation in our United Kingdom. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that we must do everything in our power to protect the status quo and those ancient rights? There must be no border at Berwick. Welsh lamb should be sold in Scotland. English barley should supply Scotch whisky.

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Quite simply, yes. My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that is why we are putting forward proposals to ensure that we continue with our seamless internal market in the United Kingdom.

Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Labour, Luton South

Since I was elected, many of my constituents have written to me about their concerns for food standards, whether they are people who eat food or even the 20 or so members of the National Farmers Union in my constituency who produce it. In the White Paper, the Government make several references to past action on standards, but the future-focused language is extremely weak. Will the Secretary of State commit to minimum standards, which people can improve on but not go below?

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

As I have noted, and as a matter of fact, we have had very high standards when it comes to food safety and animal welfare in the United Kingdom. The best way to ensure that we have the same standards across the United Kingdom is to work together to the common frameworks programme, which is what I would like us all to do.

Photo of Bim Afolami Bim Afolami Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden

In this Chamber over the past few weeks, I have heard Members on both sides talking about the need to preserve and create jobs as we recover from covid. There are financial barriers, but there are also regulatory barriers, and these proposals ensure that they do not arise as a result of our leaving the European Union. Does the Business Secretary agree that his proposals will help to preserve jobs throughout every nation in the United Kingdom, and any approach that seeks to fragment our internal market—largely due to ideological obsessions of members of the Scottish National party—would make our jobs recovery after covid harder, not easier?

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

My hon. Friend is right. This is not about ideology; it is about pragmatism and about supporting businesses, supporting jobs and supporting livelihoods. That is why we have put forward these proposals.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

Many of us are alarmed at the prospect of standards being lowered to allow things such as chlorine-washed chicken to come into our market, particularly as the requirement to wash chicken in chlorine comes from the fact that sometimes the meat is marinated in the animal’s own guano. Some of us would rather avoid the risk of buying such products, so will the Secretary of State ensure that the devolved powers include the right to label food so that we can be warned about the prospects of buying those sorts of products?

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Let me address the point that the hon. Gentleman raises about chicken. He refers to chlorine-washed chicken: as he knows, it is illegal in the United Kingdom, and as a Government—as I have said earlier—we have been very clear that we will not sign up to trade deals that would compromise our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food safety standards. We are a world leader in those areas, and that is not going to change.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith Conservative, Arundel and South Downs

Does the Secretary of State agree that uncertainty is the enemy of investment, of employment and of consumer confidence? He should like to know that the businesswomen and men that I have been speaking to today have welcomed today’s certainty that goods and services from one part of the kingdom can continue to be sold in another and that employers in one part can continue to provide jobs to residents in another.

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

My hon. Friend has had a glittering career in business, and more than some Opposition Members, he understands what uncertainty means for businesses. It means that they do not employ people and they do not invest, and at the end of the day that impacts on the growth of our economy. What these proposals give is that certainty and clarity that businesses want.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs)

The unelected body that the UK Government plan to establish will determine whether Bills passed in the Scottish Parliament meet a new test before they can be considered competent. The Minister has described this, in Orwellian fashion, as a devolved power surge. Had this situation existed earlier, it would have prevented Scotland’s smoking ban, minimum unit pricing of alcohol and free tuition. Can he explain why he thinks it is a good idea for a Government who Scotland has rejected to seek to diminish the powers of Scotland’s democratically elected Parliament?

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Let me emphasise once more that all devolved policy areas are going to stay devolved. What is going to happen at the end of this year—the end of the transition period—is that powers will flow back to the devolved Administrations. The hon. Lady talks about minimum alcohol pricing. She will know that the Scottish Government had to fight in the courts to get that through. Under our proposals, they would have been able to make that change.

Photo of Sarah Owen Sarah Owen Labour, Luton North

Vauxhall in Luton proudly produces one of the best-selling vans in all regions and nations in the UK. This is part of the £10.5 billion-worth of goods that are imported into Northern Ireland from Great Britain each year. All this is reliant on frictionless trade. Does the Secretary of State agree that the commitment to frictionless trade across the UK, as set out in the White Paper, is essentially meaningless given that the Government have admitted that the protocol will introduce new requirements on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

We published our Command Paper in May, as the hon. Lady knows, and we said in that that there will be unfettered access for goods from Northern Ireland to GB. Certainly, the discussions that I have had suggest that businesses understand that the proposals in the White Paper give them further certainty.

Photo of William Wragg William Wragg Chair, Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Chair, Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. It is patently obvious that a Unionist and a nationalist cannot agree on a constitutional settlement, but it is none the less perfectly possible to have constructive conversations and good working relationships through proper channels. With that in mind, will he undertake to speak to his Cabinet colleagues to ensure that Lord Dunlop’s review is published?

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

My hon. Friend raises an important point. The review conducted by Lord Dunlop is, I understand, set to come to the Prime Minister in the autumn. I am sure that we will review it and look forward to it with some interest.[This section has been corrected on 20 July 2020, column 11MC — read correction]

Photo of Robert Largan Robert Largan Conservative, High Peak

The internal market has long been a cornerstone of our shared prosperity. Does the Secretary of State agree that we are stronger together and that we need to take steps to ensure that Peak district hill farmers can still sell their world-class lamb to all four corners of the United Kingdom?

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I thank my hon. Friend, who speaks up at all times for businesses in his constituency. I agree with him: we are absolutely stronger together as one United Kingdom.

Photo of Charlotte Nichols Charlotte Nichols Labour, Warrington North

The White Paper states the Government’s intention to develop a replacement for the EU state aid regime. Can the Secretary of State confirm when legislation will be brought forward with regard to state aid, and whether it will be primary or secondary legislation? Does he accept that this needs to provide confidence to the devolved nations by being administered through an independent body as opposed to his own Department?

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I can confirm to the hon. Lady that the new domestic subsidy control regime will be a modern system that will be there to support British businesses in a way that benefits all within the United Kingdom. I know that she is interested in further details on this, and we will share those in due course.

Photo of Ben Spencer Ben Spencer Conservative, Runnymede and Weybridge

Businesses in Runnymede and Weybridge benefit from access to across the UK by plane, road and rail. Does my right hon. Friend agree that while much focus is given to international trade, seamless internal trade is crucial for our ongoing prosperity across all four nations of the UK?

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. When companies are looking to invest in the United Kingdom, the fact that we will continue with a seamless UK internal market will give them significant confidence.

Photo of Martyn Day Martyn Day Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Public Health and Primary Care)

The 70 so-called new powers for Scotland are in areas that are already devolved. They include matters such as food safety, public procurement and environmental standards, all of which are at the very core of devolution. With Scottish Parliament elections scheduled for next year, does the Secretary of State not agree that it would be a democratic abomination for Scots to have to vote for parties whose policies could only be enacted subject to the provisions of the latest UK race-to-the-bottom trade deal?

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I really do suggest that the hon. Gentleman gets out and talks more to businesses in his constituency. I think that they will tell him that having a unified coherent UK internal market is good news for them and good news for their workers.

Photo of Elliot Colburn Elliot Colburn Conservative, Carshalton and Wallington

I warmly welcome the White Paper. The self-employed are some of the main drivers of economic growth in the United Kingdom, including in Carshalton and Wallington. Some, such as directors of small limited companies, have had concerns throughout the pandemic. What assurances can my right hon. Friend give that the self-employed will continue to be able to thrive and drive economic growth in the internal market?

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

As I said in response to an earlier question, we have provided support to 2.6 million people through the self-employment income support scheme, and businesses have been able to make use of the bounce-back loan scheme and the other loan schemes the Government have made available. Small businesses have also been able to take advantage of the £10,000 to £25,000 grants that have been put forward.

Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

South Yorkshire has nearly 1.5 million residents, so what discussions have taken place with local and regional leaders across England to ensure their concerns about covid-19 support are addressed?

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I do not know whether the hon. Lady asks that in relation to the White Paper we have put forward, but as she will know we have been speaking informally to businesses for a period about the UK internal market. Of course, there is now an opportunity for people to respond more formally to the consultation.

Photo of Kate Griffiths Kate Griffiths Conservative, Burton

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement. Does he agree that stimulating growth and development across our regions is vital to a well-functioning, highly productive economy? Will he work with me and others to see how a north midlands manufacturing corridor could be established to bring the region together and to open up greater opportunities for businesses?

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I would be very happy to meet my hon. Friend and other colleagues in the region to discuss how her region can benefit from the support that the Government have to offer.

Photo of Christine Jardine Christine Jardine Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Women and Equalities)

As Liberal Democrats, we welcome the announcement about internal trade and protecting the market and protecting those who survive in that internal market. However, I ask the Secretary of State to be sure that there is consultation with each of the devolved Administrations and that we have a dispute resolution mechanism for when there cannot be agreement. More than anything else, however, may I please caution the Government that any mistake on this, any suggestion that this is being imposed on the devolved Administrations, will be seized on by our colleagues on the nationalist Benches? That will do damage to the Union, rather than protect and strengthen it, so will he please bear that in mind?

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I hope that the proposals we are putting forward will strengthen the Union and strengthen support for business across the United Kingdom. The hon. Lady talks about consultation. The White Paper is of course a consultation document and I would welcome her thoughts.

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I welcome the White Paper. As my right hon. Friend said, our internal markets, which have existed for hundreds of years, support countless jobs across the four nations. Financial services and professional services are a very important sector in my constituency. How does my right hon. Friend see the City of London, in particular, being able to support millions of jobs across the four nations within the internal market?

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

My hon. Friend will know that professional qualifications will be covered under mutual recognition, which is good news for service sectors across the United Kingdom, but particularly in the City of London.

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Brexit), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Trade)

Thirty-five years ago, in 1985, the then Tory European Commissioner’s White Paper detailed 300 legislative proposals to complete the European single market, and that was with a seven-year deadline. On the UK internal market, this Tory Government are giving a four-week consultation over the summer. That is persuasive evidence, were it needed, that the UK internal market is first and foremost a convenient headline—a veneer lacking detail or a legal basis. Will the Secretary of State concede that the only certainty is that this Bill is a power grab retaining—yes, retaining—vast powers over devolved areas to Tory Ministers?

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

No, this is not a power grab. As I have said, this is a power surge to the devolved Administrations. The hon. Gentleman talks about the consultation. I can tell him that the consultation follows the principles for a Government consultation. Yes, it is for a four-week period, but very many people and, in particular, businesses do not routinely close down over the summer. I would say to him that there is an opportunity for him and others to feed in to this consultation. I know this will be important for him and he will do it in a far shorter period time than four weeks.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative, Moray

Does the Secretary of State agree with me that the nationalist narrative of a power grab has been well and truly burst when not a single nationalist can name a single power that Scotland will lose as a result of this? Indeed, hundreds—more than 100—powers will flow to Scotland on day one. Therefore, does the Business Secretary agree that this is not a constitutional issue, but an economic issue, and anyone standing in the way of this legislation is risking jobs, harming businesses and threatening the economy of our country?

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I could not have put it better myself. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is about protecting jobs, protecting businesses and, ultimately, protecting livelihoods. That is why businesses across our country—across the United Kingdom—will welcome these proposals.